What does a Machine Programmer do?

Ian Christopher Abrams

A machine programmer is responsible for creating the programmed instructions that control automated devices in a manufacturing setting or other industrial setting. For example, Computed Numerical Control (CNC) technology is a highly effective solution in the industrial sector but requires a skilled human operator to input the directions that tell the machines how to behave. This is the job of the machine programmer. CNC technology is involved in a large number of machine programmer careers, although other technologies exist that require the skills of a machine programmer as well. The primary skill employed by machine programmers is their ability to read, write and understand the programming languages used by CNC-driven machines.

A machine programmer creates programs for automated devices, like industrial laser cutters.
A machine programmer creates programs for automated devices, like industrial laser cutters.

G-Code is the dominant programming language used by machine programmers. The commands in G-Code and most other languages that a machine programmer uses involve a very low-level syntax, meaning that they do not resemble English or other languages used for human communication. Therefore, a machine programmer demonstrates competency by understanding how these commands relate to the actual processes performed by the machine. He or she also understands the nature of the physical tasks that the machine is being asked to perform through the programming. These tasks might include things such as cutting threads on metal surfaces or drilling into material.

Machine programmers often train in CNC technology.
Machine programmers often train in CNC technology.

Machine programmers are tasked with designing code that enables a machine to carry out a production task many thousands of times. Therefore, it is essential that the programs they write cause the machine's work to fall within very tight quality parameters, ensuring that the process does not result in flawed products. The work of the machine programmer thus is a very significant contributor to the quality of the industrial process as a whole.

CNC machines are capable of performing tasks that would be extremely difficult for humans to do over and over again with precision. Certain tasks, such as cutting threads in screws, have been somewhat automated for many years, but the use of modern, programmed machines allows for an even greater degree of automation and therefore greater efficiency. A programmed machine is capable of cutting a straight line or drilling a hole with accuracy that is unachievable through human labor.

Even though the automation of industry has led to the elimination of manual labor jobs, machines cannot program themselves without some degree of human input. Machine programmer careers depend upon this necessary connection between mechanical efficiency and human direction. This career appears to have long-term potential, provided that the machine programmer is able to keep up with advancing technology.

A machine programmer must be familiar with how a CNC machine is programmed, as well as maintenance and troubleshooting.
A machine programmer must be familiar with how a CNC machine is programmed, as well as maintenance and troubleshooting.

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